State Treasurer Kathleen Brown began laying the foundation for a 1994 campaign for governor Wednesday with an address on illegal immigration that heralded the contributions of the foreign-born to California and warned against a racial backlash that would be “dangerous, shameful and wrong.”
In the first of a series of major policy addresses, the Democrat proposed strict enforcement of laws against U.S. employers who hire illegal immigrants, partly through use of a new tamper-proof federal Social Security card. She also endorsed the idea of using U.S. military troops to back up the Border Patrol, but not to act as police.
Brown directly challenged Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s approach to the problem as being unrealistic and even barbaric, specifically criticizing his proposals to deny U.S. citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who are born in this country and to bar them from schools and cut off funding for emergency health care.
And Brown, 48, attacked those who would make the issue “nothing more than an arms race for ambitious politicians” and prey on the fears of Californians during times of adversity.
“We live in times when many of our people are scared,” she told about 500 people at a luncheon of Town Hall of California, most of them Downtown business and professional workers. “They’re scared of losing their jobs. They’re scared of losing their health care. They’re scared their children can’t get a decent education and they’re scared about their personal safety.
“Illegal immigration is wrongly seen as a cause of those fears,” she said.
In an interview afterward, she said: “What I have tried to do today is to try to strike a balance, to bring a common-sense approach to an issue that is very troubling to many Californians and at the same time to speak out very loudly against hate crimes and those solutions . . . that seek to divide rather than bring people together.”
The address was seen by political observers as a critical one for the first-term treasurer. She has impressed potential supporters with her prodigious fund-raising ability and a manner that combines moderate Democratic policies with a sprinkling of her father’s shrewd political style.
But Brown also has disappointed supporters with speeches that appeared to be long on platitudes and generally devoid of the specifics expected of someone who wants to be governor. Her talks often were light-hearted efforts to distinguish herself as “a different shade of Brown,” from her father, former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, and her brother, former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
Kathleen Brown left little doubt that Wednesday’s appearance marked a key juncture in her undeclared candidacy for governor, inaugurating a series of pronouncements on issues in the coming months that she said will deal with the economy, violence and crime, education and “articulating a vision for California’s future.” Her aides told political reporters in advance of the speech to expect a major address.
In Sacramento, Wilson spokesman Dan Schnur mocked Brown’s denunciation of those who would use illegal immigrants as political pawns.
“If Kathy Brown is talking about ambitious politicians and cynical political calculations, then she must be looking in the mirror,” Schnur said. “Unless she can explain exactly what role the state treasurer, of all people, has in the illegal immigration debate, then she’s engaging in exactly the kind of political manipulation of which she’s accusing others.”
Wilson is seeking a second four-year term, although he has not formally announced his candidacy. The other major likely candidate is Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who is expected to challenge Brown in the Democratic primary election in June.
The most recent Los Angeles Times Poll this month showed Brown leading Wilson and Garamendi in individual matchups.
Brown told reporters that she would make a formal declaration of her candidacy late this year or early in 1994. She was accompanied to the luncheon by political advisers and prospective campaign officials, including her designated campaign manager, Teresa Vilmain.
Illegal immigration emerged as a potent political issue early this year after Wilson sought to get the federal government to compensate California for immigration-related costs. Wilson, Brown and others have escalated the debate since then, signaling that the topic will be a focus of debate throughout the 1994 election campaign.
Brown said her major disagreement with Wilson is over the cause of massive illegal immigration into California, primarily by Latin Americans through the border with Mexico. She believes, as do most experts on the issue, that it is the lure of job opportunities in California.
Wilson has said that the major reason is the availability of free health, welfare and educational services in California and the opportunity for U.S. citizenship for children born in this country even if their parents entered illegally.
The governor has proposed that all such aid be denied to illegal immigrants. Their children would be barred from U.S. public schools, although that would require overturning an existing U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and that their children born on U.S. soil be denied citizenship, requiring an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“Visiting the crimes of an adult upon a child is, in my judgment, barbaric, and proposals that do so are based on the coldest and most cynical political calculations,” Brown said.
In the speech, Brown assembled various proposals she has enunciated since July into a comprehensive immigration policy.
Brown said the most effective way to control immigration is to toughen, and enforce, sanctions against U.S. employers who hire people without verifying if they are legal residents. The way to make sanctions work, she said Wednesday, is for the U.S. Social Security Administration to issue tamper-proof cards that would have to be shown by anyone applying for a job.
“Common sense says focus on the real reason illegal immigrants come to this country--jobs,” Brown said. “And common sense says focus on solutions that have a real chance of being implemented--not unconstitutional approaches that would take years to get resolved.”
The audience interrupted Brown several times with applause, as when she said, “I want to be unequivocal on this point: immigrants are among California’s greatest resources and strengths. . . .
“This country and this state were built by immigrants and there is no difference between a first-generation American and fifth-generation American.”